Yes, there is such a thing as cell phone addiction. In fact, the term for it, coined by British researchers in 2008, is “nomophobic” ( short for “no-mobile-phone-phobia”). A recent article in the Los Angeles Times says this condition is the fear of being without your phone.
Can you relate?
Let’s look at some of the ways we interact with our phones — and see if any of this rings true. Answer the following honestly.
Do you panic when you can’t find your phone? — Do you tear through the house in a terror, upending magazines and piles of laundry, dumping clothes on the bed and frantically searching through pocket, tossing purses and briefcases and shopping bags on the floor looking for your cell phone that you just can’t seem to remember setting down?
It isn’t life or death, surely, but at the moment it may just seem like the most important possession you have. How can you make it through the day without your precious cell phone?
Do you experience separation anxiety at the mere thought of losing your phone? — It’s not the pangs of love you’re feeling, but if you become overly anxious at the barest thought of losing your cell phone, this is not a good sign. You have definitely placed much more importance on the phone and whatever it represents to you than is warranted.
It is just an electronic device. It isn’t a person. It isn’t capable of loving you back or feeling sad if it is somehow misplaced, stolen or destroyed. Get a grip. There are many more important things to think about and value in life than a simple cell phone.
Do you carry two devices, just in case? — If one phone is good, maybe two or more is better? Some people are so paranoid that something may happen to their cell phone that they hang onto their old ones – just in case. This is really taking it to the limit in terms of irrational behavior, bordering on the laughable, really, except that it may point to some serious attachment issues.
Do you answer calls or texts immediately, or respond in five minutes or less? — Young people, especially, are more likely to feel they absolutely have to answer the phone or return a text the minute it comes in. Even if they’re driving, it might be important, right? What if so-and-so can’t meet? What if your boyfriend is calling for a date? You simply can’t take the chance of missing the opportunity to communicate. That’s not to mention that answering the call or text is one of the riskiest forms of distracted driving. It’s also a behavior pattern that only gets worse the more you engage in it.
Do you engage in conversations and text everywhere, no matter who’s around? — Are you that insufferable person next to you in line, or at a nearby table, or walking down the street, or even in a movie theater who’s so wrapped up in conversation with someone on the other end of the cell phone that you’re oblivious to all around you? Do you really think the rest of the world – at least, those in your close proximity – want to hear all the nitty-gritty details of your life ad infinitum? Come on, have a little consideration for others!
In fact, when you’re wandering through Costco, blocking the aisles with your cart while you go into minute description of every thought, this really borders on the ridiculous, don’t you think? What about when you see others doing the same thing? Does it even register as maladjusted behavior? Chances are, likely not. Addicts are notoriously incapable of seeing that what they’re doing is harmful.
Just talking on the cell phone, you say? How can that be harmful? It isn’t the talking; it’s the addiction that’s harmful. You’re obsessed and preoccupied, not paying attention to what’s going on in the world around you.
Do you feel the necessity of checking your phone in the middle of the night? — There aren’t enough hours in the day to get in all the conversations you simply have to have. The other party, whoever it is, may have been in a different time zone, or came home late, or just now got your message and is calling you back. Is that what you think? Is that why you wake up every hour on the dot and peer through bleary eyes at your cell phone, feeling knots in your stomach, afraid that you might miss an important call?
Night after night of this and you’re doing more harm to your body than you probably imagine. Not only are you depriving yourself of a decent night’s sleep, you’re giving into the craving and urge to receive what you cannot get – connection at the other end of the line.
Do you carry extra batteries, plug-in cords for the car — so you’ll always have juice — Batteries don’t live forever, especially when you’re constantly on the phone or texting or tweeting. Sooner or later, they die. Perish the thought! To ward off this possibility, do you find that you’ve resorted to carrying a multitude of quick fixes for the problem? Have you invested in plug-in cords for the car, carry extra batteries, or the aforementioned extra phone? Do you grab someone else’s phone that’s in the car with you, should your own phone die and you don’t have the immediate ability to power it up?
How did you do? Here’s the tough part. If you answered “yes” to even one of these questions, you may just have a growing problem, possibly bordering on addiction, with your attachment to your cell phone.
How common is the problem?
A story in Medical Daily cites a survey conducted SecurEnvy, a security company in the United Kingdom that provides security for cell phones. The survey involved contacting 1,000 people and asking them about their cell phone use and nomophobia. The responses they got were simply astounding: 66 percent of those polled said they had the condition.
Other survey findings were equally compelling, if not something you’d imagine. Women were more nomophobic than men, with 70 percent of women admitting to the condition, compared with 61 percent of men. But, then, men are more reticent about admitting anything remotely connected to addiction, right?
What about age differences? The SecurEnvy survey found that among the younger generation, those aged 18 to 24, 77 percent are nomophobic. With 25- to 34-year-olds, that figure is 68 percent. What about mature adults? Those aged 55 and older are actually the third most nomophobic age bloc.
What can you do about cell phone addiction?
Maybe you’re not at the point where you are interested in giving up your phone. If that thought gives you a case of the jitters, maybe you’re not ready just yet.
On the other hand, if you find that you’re considerably less satisfied with your life of late, find yourself overly anxious, stressed out, feeling like your missing something if you cannot instantly connect with whoever you want whenever you want, you may want to consider doing something about your cell phone addiction.
What’s the first step? In reality, the first thing you can and should do is put down the phone. Unplug it. Leave it at home or locked up in the car. See if you can make it through the day without using it.
If that seems out of the question for you, at least try to limit the amount of time you spend on the phone. Don’t allow yourself to check it so often to see if you’ve missed any messages. Put it on silence so you don’t hear the texts coming in, for heaven’s sake!
Full-blown cell phone addiction will require more drastic measures. While rehab for cell phone addiction may be quite rare at the present, with the statistics growing exponentially of people with the condition, it’s only a matter of time before more research-based treatment is incorporated into addiction treatment facilities.
One treatment center in California has individuals divested of their phones for a period of 10 days. Sound extreme? It really isn’t when you think about it. What happens is the individual, who at first goes through a kind of withdrawal that’s as anxiety-ridden and can cause physical discomfort akin to mild substance abuse withdrawal symptoms, gradually sees that life moves at a much less frenetic pace.
Appreciation of what’s happening in the moment, in the here and now with others who are present – as opposed to a voice on a phone or a text appearing in that small visible space on the screen – comes as a rather profound realization. It’s a gift, really, and one that causes the person learning how to manage cell phone addiction to begin to see that life has a lot more to offer when they’re not being closed off and isolated – alone with their cell phone.
Of course, there’s more to it than just ditching their phones for 10 days. Counseling and other forms of therapy help the individual learn how to get along without being so tethered to an electronic device.
Take one last look – and be honest
Dr. Keith Ablow, of FoxNews.com, puts it this way: “When human beings feel at a loss without mobile technology to anchor their moods and make them feel safe and content, then they are vulnerable to limiting interpersonal contact that interferes with their access to that technology. That can mean less outdoor activity, less conversation, less intimacy and less reliance on one’s own fund of knowledge and ability to structure time and tasks.”
Again, does this sound like you? Are you addicted to your cell phone? Is this something that you want to change? Recognizing the problem is the vital first step toward making the decision to do something about it.
Dr. Ablow goes on to say that cell phone addiction isn’t physically toxic, putting poisons into your body like alcohol or drugs, but that’s not to say that it’s non-toxic. In fact, Dr. Ablow says, “it can be just as toxic to one’s self-determination and relationships and may actually make people more vulnerable to other addictions.”
A lot of attention has been paid to marijuana as a gateway drug to use of other substances. There is a new line of thought that seems to indicate that mobile technology could also serve as a gateway drug that “fuels the search for self-defeating, counterproductive anti-anxiety strategies — like using marijuana or alcohol to keep uncomfortable feelings at bay.”
As the old saying goes, there’s no time like the present. Getting a handle on how to manage your cell phone addiction could be just what the doctor ordered.